Just as stylistic and brutal as its predecessor, but with more frustration and not enough variety to change things up.

User Rating: 7 | Shank 2 X360
The first Shank, released a little less than a year and a half ago, was a game that never really made much of a splash and likely flew under the radar for many gamers.

This is a shame since the small team at Klei Entertainment managed to create something that looked and felt much more unique than it probably was.

Shank was, in essence, a brawler. You had light, heavy and ranged attacks, various weapons and grenades to vary up the combat, and you faced enemies that fit into familiar brawler stereotypes like the larger, armored goons and smaller, more acrobatic nuisances.

With Shank 2, Klei Entertainment has given those of you who missed out on our title hero's last adventure a second chance to slice up bad people.

What made the first game stand out for those who gave it a shot was its great sense of style. The visuals were done in bright cell shading, the cutscenes played out in a well-executed comic book format and there was enough brutal brawling and hack'n'slashing to satisfy your inner sadist.

Even the music gave Shank more personality than your typical Double Dragon rip off. The soundtrack meshed with the look and feel of the game perfectly, working together with the art to produce a very lone-warrior, south-of-the-border feel to the proceedings.

Now we have Shank 2, and overall the look and feel of the game hasn't really changed, for better or for worse. The cell-shaded art style, animated cutscenes and southern-themed musical score remain largely unchanged. As before, it gives the game a unique and interesting feel, but it doesn't do much to add variety.

Shank 2 takes place not long after the first game. You return home to find that evil people are torching your hometown and doing bad things to the people that inhabit it. Naturally, this pisses Shank off, so he's off to once again seek revenge and stab anyone foolish enough to stand in his way.

The combat also remains extremely similar to its predecessor. You still have light, heavy and ranged attacks, grenades, and a grab mechanic, but combat is where fans of the first game will start to notice some differences.

As before, you have several weapons, but this time you choose a loadout of light, heavy and ranged weapons, and you can swap them out at any time. Once you've unlocked the various weapon types, you gain some flexibility in fights, but despite the various damage and speed rankings of each individual weapon, you're still essentially just playing with the usual combination of a light, heavy and ranged attack.

Also different, Shank can't block this time around. Instead, he has a counter ability and a dodge.

When an opponent is winding up to attack you, he'll sometimes have a red exclamation point above his head, letting you land a powerful counter attack. You can also choose to avoid the attack completely by using the right stick to roll dodge your way to safety.

At first, the hand-to-hand action can feel very button-mashy, but taking down enemies is still a lot of fun while you're learning to string together shank, chainsaw and pistol attacks for maximum damage. It doesn't take long, however, before the difficulty ramps up and your skills are put to the test. Your survival will depend greatly on your ability to constantly stay on the move, use all the skills at your disposal and keep a close eye out for counter or dodge opportunities.

Unfortunately, this is where a good deal of frustration comes in, too.

Shank is a relatively easy game. I was able to beat it in one afternoon on the normal difficulty setting. Shank 2, despite having very similar combat mechanics, includes many more cheap deaths from poor movement response or environments obstructing your view of the action.

This makes what your enemies are doing, as well as the aforementioned counter exclamation marks, very difficult to see. And when the game ramps up the difficulty and starts throwing more skillful enemies at you, being able to see what they're doing and pinpoint opportunities to fight back are crucial for survival.

The developers also tried to mix up combat by adding weapon drops from enemies, like baseball bats, shovels or flaming torches. A fun way to change things up, sure, but if you're in an especially busy environment and fools are taking swings at you from all different directions, it's hard see what weapons were dropped, let alone pick them up.

Regarding the environments, they have been made more detailed, varied and interactive. You go to some pretty unique landscapes, such as a junk yard or boat dock, and each has a lot going on in it. As I said, this can cause some irritation in combat, but it makes the backdrops interesting and lively.

Beyond aesthetics, Klei added some incentive to explore the environments. There are various medals to earn in addition to the usual achievements/trophies. They unlock various skins for Shank. Also, 24 pieces of intel are scattered about the eight levels. Each gives you new insights into the characters you meet along the way, and all of these collectibles give completionists something extra to obsess over.

In addition to the single player, Shank 2 includes a multiplayer survival mode. They can be played locally or online.

Shank 2's multiplayer puts two players in a screen-sized arena. You must protecting several supply stations while facing increasingly difficult waves of enemies. There are breaks between waves, during which players can buy supplies like weapons, healing items and traps you can spring on your enemies.

As far as I could tell, there is no end goal or final wave, but your progress is tracked on an online leaderboard, and there are several different arenas, which adds a little variety. Ultimately, I found it a fun but shallow distraction.

All in all, Shank 2 feels eerily and disappointingly similar to the first Shank. If you loved the first game, or didn't get a chance to try it out, then all the better for you. If it didn't really interest you or you've had your fill on arcade brawlers, there isn't much here that adds enough to make another romp worthwhile.

In the end, there are still a lot of things to like about Shank 2. The visual and audio flair, the hilariously absurd level of brutality in some animations and the addictive, deceptively deep combat all make Shank 2 a great game worth trying out if you haven't yet.

For someone who played the original in its entirety, though, Shank 2 has a palpable lack of new ideas, and the unexpected frustrations in the more difficult combat scenarios make the game tough to recommend for someone who's been down this road of revenge once already.